Colorado’s ski industry generates a $4.8 billion annual economic benefit for the state, according to a recent analysis.
The state leads the nation, with the industry supporting a large share of the employment and tax base in the mountain regions in the tourism and recreation sectors.
“This report confirms the importance of the ski industry to Colorado, both as an economic driver and a globally recognized symbol of our state,” said Melanie Mills, president and chief executive of Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents several ski areas across the state.
The comprehensive economic impact study, the first of its kind in nearly two decades, was conducted by RRC Associates, a Boulder-based market research firm. It was reviewed by the Business Research Division at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Southwest Colorado’s ski mountains are seeing a positive start to the season. Wolf Creek reported a jump of about 60 percent compared with December last year, with December being one of the slowest months for the industry.
Wolf Creek ski area owner Davey Pitcher said he supports a $5 million payroll, and those employees boost the economy by purchasing goods and real estate.
But he worries that the nature of the industry might discourage some newcomers from pursuing skiing and snowboarding as a sport, underscoring the expenses that come with it.
“The ski industry in general is faced with an aging population of baby boomers, and there’s not necessarily a generation coming in behind that that seems to be as dedicated to the sport,” Pitcher said.
Skiing and snowboarding in Colorado support more than 46,000 year-round equivalent jobs in the amusement and recreation, lodging, food services, retail and other sectors, according to the study. These jobs generate $1.9 billion per year in labor income.
Spending by out-of-state guests fuels strong economic growth. In addition to the 500,000 Coloradans who skied during the 2013 to 2014 season, more than 7 million visits were generated by skiers and snowboarders from around the United States and the world. Guests spend more than $300 per skier visit, including more than 8.4 million nights in lodging accommodations, according to the study.
Colorado communities near ski resorts have experienced strong growth in taxable sales. Since the 2002 to 2003 ski season, state taxable retail sales have grown by 62 percent for hotels and other accommodations, 75 percent for food and drink and 106 percent for real estate, rental and leasing services.
During the 2013 to 2014 ski season, skiers and snowboarders accounted for 588,000 trips through Denver International Airport, or 8 percent of all non-connecting arrivals.
Some of the largest players in the industry are not so worried about a decline over the next several years.
Kelly Ladyga, vice president of corporate communications for Vail Resorts, the state’s largest ski resort company, said: “Vail Resorts remains bullish on the continued growth of the ski industry in Colorado as demonstrated by the consistent reinvestment of millions of dollars into our mountains, including new summer and year-round activities and facilities to extend visitation in the summer and increase year-round employment.”